Sun | Apr 23, 2017

Address law-school inequity

Published:Monday | September 7, 2015 | 9:00 AMChristopher Harper

With more than 40 years in existence, the Council of Legal Education was established "to facilitate the development of competent legal practitioners for the region". Article 1 Sub-Section 3 of The Treaty Establishing the Council of Legal Education (CLE) recognises that one of their main functions is "to establish, equip and maintain law schools, one in Jamaica, one in Trinidad and Tobago and in such other territories as the council may, from time to time, determine, for the purpose of providing postgraduate professional legal training."

Article 3 outlines the admissions requirement by highlighting the fact that "every person who holds a University of the West Indies LLB degree shall be eligible for admission to the law schools".

This eligibility exists as an automatic right of entry and holders of Non-UWI Degrees will be subject to sitting a Bar Entrance Examination. This is a matter of custom instead of treaty provisions as the treaty itself makes no express mention of this entrance exam but instead highlights that "every person who holds a degree of a university or institution which is recognised by the Council as being equivalent to the University of the West Indies LLB. degree shall, subject to the availability of places and to such conditions (if any) as the Council may require, be eligible for admission to the law schools."

Resistance to the treaty has intensified as more and more students are being inconvenienced and treated unfairly because the system of legal education is not progressing in a parallel manner.

The CLE was created with the idea that there would have been one Faculty of Law in the region responsible for the legal education of many bright young minds. Ask any practising attorney about their experiences at the Cave Hill Campus and you will be able to understand the institution that was responsible for establishing the foundation of legal education in the region.

However, as the years progressed, the responsibility for the undergraduate legal training has no longer been the sole duty of Cave Hill upon the emergence of three independent faculties. The proclamations made upon the completion of such training no longer exists as "I received my LLB from the University of the West Indies" but instead as "I am a proud graduate of the Cave Hill, Mona or St Augustine Campus."

This, in turn, has created serious ramifications on the varying law schools in the region but more specifically for that of the Norman Manley Law School. An institution built to hold 170 students will now accommodate 570.

This growth has caused them to expand the facilities to accommodate the supply of law students, but at what expense? Within the last few months, the tuition increased by US$3,000 in an attempt to gain some revenue to facilitate their structural enhancements in an attempt to meet the quantity of students being produced.

 

Unfair system

 

I am a proud graduate of the University of the West Indies, and yes, I have been privy to the right of automatic entry, but I refuse to disregard a system that is unfair.

The entrance examination seems like a good enough compromise. However, referring to this year's admissions statistics, 17 out of 500 does not seem like a fair number.

Many have openly stated that UTech, UCC, or the University of London contribute nothing to regional development, but the graduates certainly do upon completion of their relevant training.

Persons have also made it very clear that the Norman Manley Law School is a regional institution made to sustain legal education in the Caribbean as a means of debunking its attachment to Jamaican soils. However, where a system is made up of a majority Jamaicans, I would assume that the host country should have a say in the management and operation of its affairs.

My suggestions: Add some weight to the undergraduate transcript in assessing who is admitted to the programme. Establish a standardised method of conversion whereby everyone's transcript can be done to reflect one system and move from there. It doesn't resonate well that a council is willing to convey a message that because one did not go to UWI, the last three years of higher education need to be reassessed.

It fails to recognise the fact that even a pass degree from UWI is still placed at an advantage in comparison to its counterparts who have done much better. It fails to recognise that its goal is to build a fraternity of capable attorneys ready to develop the region because it sits on the fact that regardless of how good you are, that will not guarantee you a place.

Professor Stephen Vasciannie, in his recent article on the council, recognised that maybe there needs to be more than one law school in the country.

While I can now understand the logic of doing such, considering the fact that the CLE is a regional body, why not establish another one in the region and strip the idea of zoning, THEN turn admissions on a merit basis once again by the valuation of the undergraduate transcript. The Hugh Wooding Law School is also bursting at the seams. Overcrowding will always be an issue when the number of students graduating yearly grows greater and greater.

There is hardly any cohesion and the UWI referred to in the Treaty Establishing the Council of Legal Education is a thing of the past. The greed and implicit need to maintain a monopoly has stretched the idea of regional interaction excessively thin.

- Christopher Harper is a law student. Email feedback to columns@gleanerjm.com and chris.ericharper@gmail.com.